When I was in seventh grade, I was assigned to make a poem and picture book. I had to find poems on a subject chosen by me, which ended up being "Cats" because I had a calendar from the previous year providing easy illustration.
It was during my research for that assignment that my love for poetry blossomed, and, indeed, I memorized the first poem that ever touched me. I think of it every so often, but always on Memorial Day:
There's a graveyard near the White House
Where the Unknown Soldier lies,
And the flowers there are sprinkled
With the tears from mother's eyes.
I stood there not so long ago
With roses for the brave,
And suddenly I heard a voice
Speak from out the grave:
'I am the Unknown Soldier,'
The spirit voice began,
'And I think I have the right
To ask some questions man to man.
'Are my buddies taken care of?
Was their victory so sweet?
Is that big reward you offered
Selling pencils on the street?
'Did they really win the freedom
They battled to achieve?
Do you still respect that Croix de Guerre
Above that empty sleeve?
'Does a gold star in the window
Now mean anything at all?
I wonder how my old girl feels
When she hears a bugle call.
'And that baby who sang
"Hello, Central, give me no man's land"-
Can they replace her daddy
With a military band?
'I wonder if the profiteers
Have satisfied their greed?
I wonder if a soldier's mother
Ever is in need?
'I wonder if the kings, who planned it all
Are really satisfied?
They played their game of checkers
And eleven million died.
'I am the Unknown Soldier
And maybe I died in vain,
But if I were alive and my country called,
I'd do it all over again.'
At twelve years old, I didn't have a clue as to what most of it meant, but it spoke to me and to my heart, and I'm sure it's what started me down the path to a degree in history as I investigated what the references to Croix de Guerre, bugle calls, military bands, and profiteers were all about.
In other news, I am happy to report that more of our fallen soldiers can be remembered in the way that they would have wanted; the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has agreed to allow the Wiccan pentacle to the list of acceptable symbols for veterans' graves.
It warms my heart as an American to know that these soldiers and their families can finally enjoy the religious freedom that so many of our fallen have died to preserve.